There are some historical events so implanted within our memories, we recall exactly where we were when they happened: the day John Kennedy was shot, 9-11, and the day John Lennon died.
This December 8 marks the 30th anniversary of the death of former Beatle John Lennon. I recently interviewed renowned Beatles historian Bruce Spizer and asked him to recall the day John Lennon died.
Where were you when you heard the news John Lennon had died? What was your initial reaction?
I was in my apartment reading “The Wall Street Journal” while watching Monday Night Football. As I was paying more attention to my reading than the game, it took a few seconds for the announcement of John Lennon’s death to penetrate my brain. When I realized what I thought I heard, I raced to the phone and called WTUL, the Tulane University radio station, to determine if I had heard correctly or just imagined the tragic news. An equally stunned disc jockey told me it had just come across the AP wire. That night I had trouble sleeping. The next day I left work on my lunch break to attend a memorial presentation at a New Orleans theater. As I walked past each newspaper box, I looked at the headline, each time hoping it would say “LENNON SHOT; EXPECTED TO RECOVER.” But it never did. Each time I saw the real headline it was more proof he was gone. I saw several friends at the memorial. We all were shocked and agreed the world had lost a great man. We sang Beatles songs such as “All You Need Is Love” and John Lennon songs such as “Imagine” and “Give Peace A Chance.” I get tears just thinking about it.
As a Beatles fan, how did your life change after John Lennon’s death?
While I was saddened and recognized John’s death was a great loss, I cannot say it changed my life. The feeling was similar to when President Kennedy, Marin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were shot. I was stunned, but got over it after a few weeks. Life goes on, even after a tragic loss. I felt sorry for his family and friends. On a selfish level, I knew I would miss out on all the great songs that John would have written had he lived. I also knew that there would never be a Beatles reunion. I gained a greater appreciation of his solo recordings from playing his records extensively in the weeks following his death.
Unlike George Harrison, John Lennon died a violent death at the hands of an assassin. How does this contribute to the legacy of John Lennon?
John’s unexpected and violent death made it all the more shocking. With George’s death, we knew it was coming and that George was at peace. While it was sad, I did not feel the anger I felt over John being shot. I believe that John’s sudden and violent ending elevated the way many people thought of him. John was made a hero who died for peace, even though his killing had nothing to do with his opposition to war. His music, particularly his solo recordings, were given more respect. His weaknesses as a person were overlooked. By comparing his assassination to the shootings of President Kennedy, Marin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, John was placed in the company of highly regarded and well respected individuals who changed our world and whose lives were cut short too early and in a tragic manner. While Lennon’s assassination enhanced his legacy, the glowing tributes are bittersweet as it reminds us all the more of the senseless way he died.
This December will mark the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. How should the world acknowledge that day? What will you do that day?
The focus should be on John and not be on the person who shot him. The gunman should get no attention on this day or any other day. We should focus on John’s music. We should sing his songs. We should wonder if war could really be over if we wanted it and what we need to do to bring war to an end regardless of our political views. We should remember John as a man who was not afraid to tell the world of his beliefs and who rarely compromised what he felt in both his music and his actions. I plan to listen to his music as that is how I remember him most of all.
Bruce Spizer is an attorney and the author of several Beatles books including The Beatles Are Coming! and The Beatles’ Story on Capitol Records parts 1 & 2. Spizer also wrote the questions for The Beatles Trivial Pursuit Board Game.